At just 17, Bafana newbie Lyle Foster is on the up and up
Along with Luther Singh, Ryan Moon and Phakamani Mahlambi, he is the future of striking for South Africa
Lyle Foster has no illusions that there is much hard work ahead if he is to graduate from teen starlet to genuine international star.
The 17-year-old Orlando Pirates prospect made his Bafana Bafana debut with three appearances off the bench at the Cosafa Cup in Polokwane last week. The young South Africans lost in the quarterfinals against Madagascar but won the Plate beating Namibia and Botswana.
Does it cross the mind of Foster, included on a list of the world’s most exciting young footballers compiled by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, that normally when players start professionally and for their national teams at 16 or 17 they go on to become big stars?
Foster lets out air at the question.
“I have had to think about it,” he admitted. “To have a future you need to make sure that the present is going well. So I’m not one of those guys who thinks about it too much. But certainly I’d want to become a great in South African football.”When I interviewed him, I found Foster at Polokwane’s Mall of the North. He, Aubrey Modiba and Luther Singh, the 20-year-old striker recently promoted to Portuguese club Braga’s senior team, were cruising the jewellery shops seeking out a no-doubt suitably shiny watch for the teen.
Three front men who Bafana coach Stuart Baxter took in his youthful squad for the Cosafa – Foster, Singh and Kaizer Chiefs’ Ryan Moon – plus Al Ahly’s Phakamani Mahlambi, surely represent the future of striking for South Africa.
“It would be lovely to play alongside those names – they’re all doing really well,” Foster said.
“The reason I hang out with Luther so much is because I grew up with him – we’re from the same family, same neighbourhood. My gran and Luther’s mother are sisters. So Luther’s my uncle, actually.
“We went to Florida Primary School. I used to play football after school in Grade 2, and Luther used to come and fetch me with a bicycle and we’d go to his house in Florida until my mom would pick me up.“He lives five minutes away from where I do in Florida. Now that he’s away a lot we still keep in contact and he gives me advice. Him playing at one of the biggest teams in Portugal and getting promoted is something I can learn from, and something I want to do as well.”
The pair grew up playing street football together, first in Noordgesig in Soweto, and then in Florida near Roodepoort after both families moved to the more affluent area.
“In street football we’d be in the same team, in the Sunday League he’d play for his uncle’s team and I played for Nazarene United, but there was not much rivalry because he was in the higher age group,” Foster said.
“Luther was already excelling, in school and at football. He played for a club called Florida Albion. His mentor Farouk Khan picked him up there to join the Stars of Africa academy at the age of 12.”
Foster’s football stock runs deeper. Dad, Lance Foster, played with Junaid Hartley in the development of Bidvest Wits, then Wits University.When Foster was 12 a friend of his mother sent an e-mail that trials were being held for Pirates’ development. Not sure he would make it, he went because a few of his friends were going.
“I was the only one to make it. That same year Pirates’ development closed down [because of age-cheating issues in 2012]. But my father, my mentor, the man who I respect so much, [Bucs’ development head] Augusto Palacios called me back and opened his personal development. He gave me a chance and has taught me literally everything I know about football.”
Last year Foster made a list of the Guardian’s 60 most promising footballers. But the potential shown at 17 is not always realised. What sets Foster apart?
“Being consistent with your performance and adapting to different levels of football. When playing in Europe, adapting to it. Being a player who is coachable. It was nice to see the list. But I still have work to do trying to get into Pirates’ starting XI, and the list doesn’t affect anything.”
Foster played nine times for Pirates in 2017-18, scoring once. Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic keeps the teen abreast of the plans to introduce the youngster in stages.
“I don’t get impatient. I just try and work hard and earn my game time. What will come to me is what I deserve.”